By Linda Green and Kevin Coughlin
Thursday’s kickoff breakfast of the Morristown Women in Business group was held in a conference room at the Hyatt Morristown.
The ladies may need an entire ballroom next time.
More than 90 women exchanged business cards and listened to optimistic economic forecasts from Mayor Tim Dougherty and Michael Fabrizio of the Morristown Partnership.
“The energy in the room was wonderful. People expressed a need for this,” said WIB co-founder Mary Dougherty, who works in town for a corporate relocation company when she is not attending civic functions as Morristown’s First Lady.
She said the purpose of the fledgling organization is to empower women entrepreneurs. Opportunities for that abound in Morristown, according to her husband, who started his second mayoral term on New Year’s Day.
“Twenty-five years ago, on a Friday night, there wouldn’t be a car driving through,” the Mayor said. But a renaissance that began in the mid-1990s with the restoration of the Community Theatre–now the Mayo Performing Arts Center–shows no signs of slowing, he said.
Photos by Bill Lescohier and Kevin Coughlin. Please click icon below for captions.
The Speedwell Avenue redevelopment and other residential projects will bring hundreds of new residents–and consumers–to Morristown, he said.
Some 200 businesses have opened here over the last two-and-a-half years, and the next batch includes television’s Cake Boss, renowned New York restaurateur Chris Cannon and the newly opened Godfather of Morristown pizza and seafood restaurant. Thousands of cyclists come each fall to the Gran Fondo, an extravaganza launched by bike shop owner Marty Epstein with the Mayor’s support.
When Michael Fabrizio helped start the Morristown Partnership 20 years ago, he counted 73 vacant storefronts. Now, he said, the yearly turnover is only around 3 percent. Over that same two-decade span, more than $600 million have been invested here and 1,500 parking spaces have been added.
While some issues remain–like traffic, bar problems, high rents and a national decline in retail industries–most challenges can be met, the two guest speakers asserted. A traffic committee is in the works, the Mayor said. And responding to public input, a developer has scaled down plans for a seven-story apartment building on DeHart Street, he said.
Bottom line: Just about everyone wants to come here.
“It’s a great place to live, work and play,” the Mayor said, urging businesswomen to get involved in local matters, such as pending revisions to the zoning master plan. He assured them that they are just as important as voting taxpayers, because the success of local enterprises is vital to keeping a lid on citizens’ taxes.
After networking on Thursday with local fitness instructors Dara Dwyer and Karin Stoetzer, the Mayor suggested creation of a wellness committee to promote Morristown’s burgeoning yoga and fitness centers. A similar coalition of bridal businesses formed a few years ago.
Lots of others met for the first time at the breakfast. Sharon Callahan of Coldwell Banker and Melissa Salny from Smith Family Chiropractic traded cards. Judy Bortman of TransOptions enjoyed connecting with Cyndi Steiner of The New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition. Morristown native Jacquelyn Lake recently started The Altruism Initiative with her husband, to teach life skills to disadvantaged children and families; she was thrilled to make new contacts.
“This was absolutely amazing,” she said.
Morristown Council President Rebecca Feldman, Morris County Freeholder Kathy DeFillippo and Morris County Tourism Director Leslie Bensley also attended, along with Councilman Michael Elms and town Sustainability Coordinator Paul Miller.
Melody McGinley Whitelaw, “caterer to the stars” at the Main Event on Washington Street, had been proposing a women’s business group to the Partnership for a while, Fabrizio said. Mary Dougherty supplied the energy to get it moving, he said.
An executive committee established in October includes Marisa Sweeney, owner of Be Well Morristown; Michele Reinhart of Staples; and Maria Rivera-Jones of JP Morgan Private Bank.
“There is a big need for this, and I am happy to be a part of this inclusive group. People can be involved as much as possible,” said Sweeney. Reinhart said she is excited to see where it all leads.
Monthly events are anticipated; the next is a luncheon on Feb. 28, 2014, with a location and topic to be announced. Membership is $100 for individuals and $250 for corporations (up to three members). To contact the Morristown WIB, visit the group’s website, send an email or call 862-812-0962.
Although the morning was all about business, it wasn’t all business.
The Mayor got laughs when he revealed how a problem at his day job–with the New Jersey Devils–almost kept him from speaking at his wife’s event.
“That wouldn’t be so good,” he acknowledged.
Later he got an even bigger laugh when he shared another private moment from the home front. One time Mary told him: “Listen, I know you’re the mayor. But you’re not the mayor here.”
“And I turned to her and said”–the Mayor paused for a moment, with a devilish grin–”‘technically…I am.
“It didn’t go very far.”